Most of us pay dearly to run the software that’s installed on our computers, usually some version of Windows along with Microsoft Office, accounting software like QuickBooks or Peachtree, and an antivirus program like Symantec or McAfee. Many products require annual renewals or maintenance contracts; others release upgrades regularly, making it a challenge to keep pace with the latest versions.
While keeping licenses paid up is expensive, it can be even worse if you don’t, with civil and criminal penalties (including jail time!) that far outweigh the price of the licenses themselves. Disgruntled employees are a common source of leads, earning tens of thousands—even hundreds of thousands—in rewards for reporting software piracy.
These factors are driving many businesses to explore the world of open source software, where licensing costs are nonexistent. Entire cities, like Houston, TX, are making the switch; likewise, the government of Brazil abandoned Microsoft completely in favor of open source software.
How can free software be any good?
Open-source software is distributed under a special (free) license that allows anyone access to study and change the source code. This allows the software to evolve naturally, based on the needs of users world-wide; also, as bugs arise, programmers contribute solutions. The pace of development can be remarkably fast. New updates are generally batched together into releases, with some sort of peer review or decision-making process to ensure that the software remains stable.
Many programmers philosophically believe all software should be free, while others believe that open-source development produces a higher quality product than commercial development. Either way, the result is a wide assortment of excellent software tools that we can all put to use.